The vines that were tightly wrapped around the central stalk of the plant-thing in Xavier's hands relaxed and pulled away revealing…a really normal-looking white flower. Xavier thought it looked kind of like a daisy, if that daisy were drawn by a six-year-old, described over the phone, and then nurtured by a mad scientist from some sort of mutant plant strain. So actually not much like a daisy now that he thought about it. Regardless, several white petals surrounded a central yellow well that extended down into the stalk of the flower. Two of the upper petals had black splotches, giving it a comic almost-face.
"Aaaaaah, that feels sooooo goooood!" exclaimed the decidedly masculine voice in English, and the flower tilted up towards Xavier's face. "I don't know how many years it's been since I was able to communicate with something, but, uh, actually nevermind! Never ask a lady her age, and all that." There was something really strange about this, but Xavier was having a hard time putting his finger on it.
"So, who are you, anyway?" continued the voice. "I didn't sense you at all until you were suddenly all up in my grill breaking my arms. Boy, I tell you, I haven't had that much of a challenge in years! And then all of a sudden, ZING, and I'm experiencing coherent thought! Wow was that a kick in the pants! Not that I wear pants, you understand."
«Wait,» said Xavier, and shook his head. "I mean, wait." He stared closely at the flower in his hands, which cocked its head at him. "Are you a talking flower?" He still wasn't sure where this voice was coming from, but the flower's movements and slight gestures of its vines coincided perfectly with the voice he was hearing.
"Weeeeeeell," said the voice. "I mean, yes, this is me—" here the flower shrugged its vines and gestured lightly toward itself "—but I'm technically not making any sound, just creating the illusion of sound directly in your auditory cortex." Xavier felt a light tap against the side of his head and realized that the plant had one of its vines draped over his shoulder and resting lightly against his head. Although he didn't feel any thorns on this one, he had a difficult time not jerking away in surprise.
"How—" he began, but changed course. "Why do you speak English?"
"English? Excuse you," said the plant. "I'd offer you a leaf to blow your nose on, but I seem to have lost them all trekking halfway across the desert. Anyway, like I mentioned mere seconds ago I don't actually speak. It's more like, hmmm, high-level sympathetic synchronicity via an ad-hoc nima alignment."
"What." Xavier wasn't even sure where to begin with that.
"Look, I'd love to sit here and chat," said the plant, before Xavier had a chance to continue. "But maybe you should do something about those animals who are trying to kill us?"
Xavier looked up and realized that he was surrounded by bakuhito—albeit at a distance that couldn't be crossed by the vines of the plant thing in his hands—and they did not look friendly. They were, in point of fact, arguing with Kahina over the immediate necessity of killing Xavier where he sat.
"Wait—damn it." Suddenly dropping into English had seriously messed with his head. «Wait, what are you saying? Don't kill us!»
«You see?» Kahina demanded.
«That's a mononoke, you fool Antean!» shouted a wolf-person who was clutching one of the sledgehammers they had been using to break apart fallen adobe like he was worried Xavier was going to leap at him and chew his face off. «He's already lost, it's just a matter of time!»
"What are they talking about?" muttered Xavier, half to himself.
"Ah, well, hmm, normally they'd be correct," piped up the plant. "I do seem to recall that's the typical way things have gone for—a while. You're just a weirdo. I wouldn't recommend handing me to anyone else, if you get my drift."
"What, like you'd hurt them?"
"Not intentionally! But like I said coherent thought has been impossible for a very long time, and well—more like if one of your 'friends' there—and I'm using that term sarcastically, not sure if that comes across with this mental connection doohickey—picked me up I'd quickly cause them to self-destruct. Hey, maybe you should tell them that I'm harmless before they really work themselves into doing something they'll regret? Mostly harmless. Harmless unless handled? Whatever, I'm not the diplomat with vocal chords, that's you."
«It's harmless right now!» Xavier called to the bakuhito who paused in their argument with Kahina to turn his way. «The, uh, mononoke?» Ugh, the temptation to call it a princess was almost overwhelming. «It says it will not hurt anyone. But do not touch it!»
«The mononoke talks?» The skepticism practically dripped from the wolf's mouth.
«Yes!» Xavier called. He turned his attention to the flower. "Could you maybe do something to show you're not hostile?"
"Oh, very well," grumbled the flower. "The things a girl will do for a halfway intelligible conversation partner." The vines around the flower shuddered, twitched, and then all of the vines with really nasty thorns fell off at once, leaving only a number of petite vines extending from the stalk of the flower that wrapped lightly around Xavier's forearm, and a pair of longer vines without thorns, including the one that was currently resting against the side of his head. At the movement the bakuhito around him jerked back a step almost as one.
«See?» called Xavier. «It means no harm.»
«We can't trust it,» growled the wolf. «How can we be sure it won't attack us as soon as we get close?»
«Why not wait?» rumbled Kahina. «The response team should be here shortly. Let them sort it out and you won't have to put yourself in danger. Zabi-san is clearly not going on a rampage.»
«She makes a good point,» said one of the goat people who had been helping with the rebuilding project, and the tone of the crowd shifted from murderous to fearful and wary.
Several minutes later, a group of wolf bakuhito loped up who Xavier could only assume were the response team Kahina had mentioned. Their equipment and the way they carried themselves was exactly like Yukio's group—the only difference being that this entire team was wolves. After a few tense minutes during which the group wanted to fling spears at Xavier from afar, their leader approached.
«You, human,» snapped the wolf. «Put the mononoke on the ground and take a full step back. If you are lying and it has already taken root, I will kill you where you stand.»
«I will put it down,» said Xavier.
"Hmmm, yeah, okay I suppose this will probably work out fine," said the plant, obvious doubt coloring its voice. "But, uh, if I happen to try and go after Mr. Big and Hairy there, jump on me, would you? I'd rather not cause an incident. Also I'd appreciate if my ticket to coherence avoids being dead."
"—Right. I want to hear about this 'taking root' thing once you reassure them you're not dangerous, though."
"Oh, that? You don't have anything to worry about. I tried to permanently attach to you at least half a dozen times when we were wrastlin' just a bit ago, and it didn't work at all."
"Maybe this method of communication still needs a bit of work; that didn't have quite the same flavor coming as going. Bumping uglies?"
"That's definitely not it. I'm putting you down now."
Xavier carefully set the plant down, and it immediately withdrew its vines from him and dug them into the soil around it. Keeping an eye on it, Xavier took a large step back, leaving the flower looking unexpectedly small and lonely in the middle of the pack of bakuhito.
The entire time, the wolf hadn't let his spear waver from Xavier, but as Xavier stepped back the wolf kept it trained on the mononoke. When after a few seconds the flower remained still, the bakuhito let out a huge sigh. «I'll be damned. Now I've seen everything.»
«May I pick it up?» asked Xavier nervously. While the wolf had relaxed, he'd been feeling entirely on edge, since he was fairly certain the flower hadn't been kidding about potentially needing to be jumped on and if he wasn't mistaken it was starting to lean ever-so-slightly toward the wolf. «I…drain it.» He was reasonably sure that was the right term; he'd certainly heard it enough times by now whenever he came into contact with someone, and it was as good an explanation as any for what was evidently an entirely atypical encounter with this plant or monster or whatever it was.
The wolf eyed the flower with an inscrutable expression, then gave a short nod. As Xavier placed his hands on the flower, its remaining long tendrils whipped up and slapped painfully against his arms. He recoiled slightly, but the flower didn't move any more than that for several seconds, until one of the vines slid gently up his shoulder and it helped him left it up.
"I should maybe stay in contact with you, alright?" said the flower. "That—was not a very safe idea."
"Good to know," said Xavier warily.
«Are you truly talking to the mononoke in that strange language?» interjected the response team leader.
«Yes,» replied Xavier. «I hear it—uh—in my head.»
The wolf eyed him. «Where are you staying?»
«The Isei Wayhouse.»
«We'll escort you back, then, and evacuate the wayhouse for the evening. You are not to go anywhere with that thing until the elders have a chance to decide what to do with you. Antean-san, since I hear you're advocating mercy you get to watch him and make sure he doesn't go on a rampage.»
«Very well,» said Kahina.
"Well, hey!" said the flower, in a voice only Xavier could hear. "Who doesn't like a sleepover?"